Many people argue that only the 65-team NCAA championship tournament is considered “March Madness”. I disagree.
Conference tournament games have significant implications for the participating teams. Many teams are trying to make a last ditch effort to qualify for the NCAA tournament by improving their resume, others’ only hope is to win their respective tournaments. Sometimes intense rivalries can be developed and improved upon in conference tournaments, and at other times a student-athlete can evolve into a heroic player or a hated player.
My all-time favorite conference tournament was in 2006 when Gerry McNamara led Syracuse to the Big East title (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ArlqIs2NT8). The Orange were a tournament bubble team that barely made the Big East tourney heading into their first game against Cincinnati. McNamara made a clutch winning shot in the dying seconds of that game to propel the Orange into their quarter-final against powerhouse UConn. The Huskies featured five 2006 NBA draft picks and were ranked in the top 4 in the country at the time. Once again McNamara came through with clutch shots to lead the Orange to an OT victory. McNamara’s heroics continued in the semis against Georgetown and the championship game against Pittsburgh.
Another incredible conference tournament memory took place at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. It was the 2005 Conference-USA championship game between Memphis and Louisville, and the game’s finish was tighter than young Forrest and Jenny. After a wild final minute (which is often overshadowed by the game’s final seconds) consisting of three-pointers and answering three-pointers, Memphis guard Darius Washington Jr. was fouled in the act of shooting a three-pointer with no time left on the game clock. The score was 75-73 for the Cardinals, and the confident freshman calmly stepped up to the line. Make. Miss. Miss. The heartbroken guard collapsed on the floor along with the Tigers’ tournament hopes.
There are, of course, so many other exciting conference tournament storylines which I failed to mention, and probably even failed to be alive to witness. Please share your favorite memories in the article’s comments section. And always remember: March Madness does start before the NCAA tournament!